01 August 2009

Restore the One Who Is Sick

(I am posting the following with permission from the person referred.)

A couple weeks ago while counseling a parishioner, she mentioned that she had been suffering from an ailment for a number of months. She mentioned it mostly in conjunction with the other difficulties she was experiencing, that they exacerbated each other.

Our session ended with the order of Individual Confession and Absolution. At the end of the ritual, where the absolution is pronounced, I also anointed her with oil and announced to her the passage from James 5, that if anyone is sick, "he must call the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him." A few days later she told me that by the next morning she had been healed of her ailment.

The greater miracle here, of course, is the forgiveness of sins, as we rightly and readily confess. But it also reminded me of the intimate connection between the forgiveness of sins and all the other works of God. We confess this in the catechism, that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Life and salvation includes the healing of the body.

So what is to prevent us from praying for bodily healing, when the Scriptures command it? We know the warnings: we do not want to get caught up in signs and wonders, distracting us from the essence of Christ's ministry, the forgiveness of sins. Or perhaps we have even been told that after the time of the apostles these kinds of miracles cease. This latter argument I have never found convincing from the Bible passages quoted in its support. Yet we surely do not want to be distracted from the essential ministry of Christ, caught up instead with speculation about miracles which would divert our attention from the things above back to the things of this world.

Such prayers for healing, it seems, need to be made in the context of the absolution and the Office of the Keys. Not only in their context, but subordinate to them. This is also part of what James says: if anyone is sick he calls for prayer, and his sins will be forgiven.

Yet prayers to be healed should also be made in earnest, not out of a theology of glory that sees healing tied to a level of faith, piety, or spirituality, but because healing is tied to forgiveness. Healing of our bodies will occur, sooner or later. Healing is tied to the forgiveness of sins. We are commanded to pray for it.

Finally, that the healing occurred quietly, almost unnoticed until after the fact, also points to the primacy of the forgiveness of sins. We both knew her sins were forgiven as soon as I spoke the words of Our Lord. But even she didn't realize she was healed until some hours later, perhaps even some hours later than the healing actually occurred. It could never be proven that the healing occurred by the word of God. And that is how it should be, for healing, like forgiveness, is assured through faith in the promise of Christ, not by some amazing sign that accompanies it, or a scientifically observable chain of events.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Healing is not a show, it is not a reward. It isn't a matter of commerce, where X prayers and Y devotions will cause Z healing. When it is given it is always simply a gift, nothing more, nothing less.

Let your prayers (and your annointings) be simple and made trusting in our Lord Christ Jesus - and then He will provide as He will.

WM Cwirla said...

Well said. Temporal healing is a little preview of the perfect healing that is ours now in Christ and will be ours in the resurrection of our bodies. I've experienced a number of such occurrences in 17 years of pastoring. They have been all like the ones described - quiet, unnoticed until after the fact, subordinate to the perfect healing of salvation in Jesus.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

"When it is given it is always simply a gift, nothing more, nothing less."

I think this "always" above goes a little too far. Like one of my teachers used to say: "Never use universal quantifiers." I think we Lutherans have become so jaded to claims of miracles - thanks to Roman Catholic bleeding paintings and Pentecostal claims of gold dust appearing - that we have become jaded and cynical to the reality that the "prayer of the righteous availeth much."

St. John often referred to our Lord's miracles as "signs." God is certainly able (and allowed, even under our Missouri Synod bylaws) to perform miraculous signs if he chooses. Yes, indeed, miraculous healings are gifts, merciful and loving manifestations of grace, but to say that they are "nothing more, nothing less" is to try to put a gag on God. He may well use a miracle to call a person to repentance, to give someone a sign (albeit unusual, that's why it is a miracle), or to simply, as in the case of Hezekiah, "repent" and grant more time to a person for hidden reasons of His own according to His will.

I think we Lutherans do need to take Luther's advice and "let God be God."

Father Hollywood said...

By the way: "Never use universal quantifiers" was my teacher's idea of a joke. "Never" is a universal quantifier. The point being, that sometimes you have to say things like "never," and "always" - like the old saying: "Never say never."